Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Under the Gaslight - For a Limited Time Only

After attending the production of Under the Gaslights, of the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat on August 13, 2016...

How have I lived in St. Paul for nearly 20 years and not known about the Showboat?

The energy of this production alone blows the top off of the riverfront. The cast is all-in, with a no-holds-barred, full-blown enthusiasm for this unabashedly melodramatic production. It is clear that every member of the cast enjoyed this show as much as the audience; I have not had this much fun at a show in decades.

The single adjustment that today's audience must make is to the assumptions, expectations, and syntax of the 19th century melodrama. It is the script of the play itself that makes this necessary. Chalk it up to a true "suspension of disbelief." Once one is there, however, there are no regrets. The cast gives it their all - as convincing as one can be with this type of script - with voice, action and expressions all enabling a temporary return to experience a well-to-do atmosphere of 150 years ago.

In fact, even if one did not particularly enjoy the deliberately and beautifully over-played melodrama, the olios alone would justify seeing this show. These musical interludes, which occur a half-dozen times as brief respites from the primary plot, provide opportunities for the cast to temporarily enter a different realm. From the dancing solo of "The Bowery" in the first Act, to the wildly campy "Trio of Insect Songs" in the second act, the audience is treated to a level of comic relief reminiscent of, on the one hand, Shakespeare's short scenes, and on the other, the between-innings antics of the Saint Paul Saints.

This is the last year of the Centennial Showboat.  If you live in this area and have not been to one, you owe it to yourself to get down there in the next few days.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Numbers...and Meaning

I knew that I would have to wait to see my specialist.  He's not just a doctor, and a good one, but also one who is in great demand.  Yes, I had an appointment...but perhaps the sign in the waiting room will give you the idea:
     "If you have been waiting more than 20 minutes since your appointment time, please check with the receptionist."

I have learned to bring a notepad. This time, I wrote down the numbers I had dealt with this morning.

How many numbers in day?  And for how many different purposes? We think of language as the thing we cannot do without; yet, how many different languages do numbers speak?

License Plate
Measure of fluid
Phone number
Pass code
Parking fee
Steps taken
Blood pressure

Each number speaks in its own system. The remarkable thing is that anyone in this society looking at the numbers themselves - listed below - can interpret the meaning of each, with little difficulty:

357 TRW
32 ml

This interpretation is not difficult; and that may be part of why we miss the meaning - or, more accurately, forget to search for the meaning.

In the context of data computing, we may struggle with the differences between data and information. They are differences that I have found difficult to convey to colleagues who use the same sets of data that I use. Attending a class taught by a friend this week, I heard what might be the best contrasting definitions:
  • Data is "given"; information is "taken."
  • The word data comes from the Latin donner; information from the root for structure.
  • Data involves raw observations; information attempts to create knowledge.
  • As a result, data = measures; information = beliefs.
The measures were created in order to capture observations more precisely, in order to clarify extent.

The irony is that the greater the precision, the more likely we are to be removed from the information - the ultimate meaning.

Just as I noticed that I had been waiting about 25 minutes, I heard the receptionist call my name. "The doctor has been held up unexpectedly by an extended surgery...."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is Benjamin Lane's 93rd birthday.  Dad, thanks for watching over us, and thanks for setting everything up so that going forward would be so much easier for us.
Happy Birthday, Dad.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Benjamin Lane: Not Just the Facts

My father died a couple of weeks ago.  He was an accountant, working for the Federal Government for most of his career, and had been retired for the last 25 years. He kept good records, and he took care of his family.  He loved kids - anyone's kids.  He'd even stop by the side of a highchair in a restaurant to say hello to a toddler. 

My Dad relied on hard work and good thinking, and took no unnecessary chances.  He did what was right, whether anyone was looking or not. He understood logically that he was often fighting a losing battle, but that did not change his feelings about doing the right thing.  He was quiet; he let others stand in the light and take the credit.

People who knew my Dad well admired him.  People who didn't probably didn't notice what he was doing.

He had a sense of humor.  At least, he and I thought he did, as did my kids.  People who like professional comics didn't find him funny.  We know better:  humor, especially spontaneous, and sometimes foolish, is part of the texture of life.  We make things up as we go along.  I thought he was clever, and sometimes predictable, but always funny, in a light-hearted, share-the-wealth kind of way.

I really miss him...although, if you asked me to describe what I miss, it would be difficult, because my Dad was sometimes invisible.  It was a talent.  He could be fully present, catching every word, every expression, but sinking into the woodwork like any other unobtrusive drop of paint...until he told a joke. 

He took care of us, and is probably still taking care of us.  And he didn't have a middle name.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Live Debate

Thank you, Minnesota Public Radio.  Thank you, Gary Eichten.  And Kathy Wurzer. I listen to you pretty much every day, but until this live experience, I didn't fully appreciate the value you provide us...

It was a demonstration of how our democracy was built - the hard way, with face-to-face debate, and an insistence that tough questions get asked and answered.  It took just an hour, but the results were decisive.  Thanks to Kathy's insistence, evasive answers did not stand. 

Both participants came prepared, in their own ways.  One, however, thought it would be enough to be prepared to express personal opinions loudly and insistently.  That led to a few memorable moments... insistence on hammering on something that appeared to be a non-issue, with countervailing facts in evidence from his own party's representative...

...a closing statement referring to "attacks on me" that never occurred, so obviously incongruous that it brought gasps from his own supporters...

...and, most striking of all, attempts to explain Climate Change as (1) an economic phenomenon, (2) a controversial issue among scientists, and (3) a matter of "belief" (religious?).

In contrast, we saw the value of a different kind of preparation demonstrated humbly by our Senator Amy Klobuchar, who chose the strategically (and ethically) effective route:  answering the questions honestly and directly, citing the evidence, stopping, and letting her opponent hang himself.

I have rarely been as proud of a politician - excuse me, a stateswoman - as I was last night of Senator Klobuchar.  If only 51% of our legislators could take their obligations to us half as seriously as she does, we would eliminate roadblock, talk through obstacles, handle tough issues with powerful common sense, and return to becoming the country we all thought America could be...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hoarder Historian, Two

...a series of posts in which a baby boomer, in the process of cleaning out the file cabinets, boxes, and bookshelves in his basement, discovers memories hidden in long-forgotten artifacts, and waxes, if not eloquent...

Four Dark Days in History: November 22, 23, 24, 1963, Collector's copy $1.00, copyright 1963, Special Publications, Inc., Los Angeles 28, Calif.

Along the bottom of the front cover it says, "A Photo History of President Kennedy's Assassination."  I never understood that.  Even at 11, I knew there was something wrong with the way that was written, as if JFK owned the event.  Inside, all black and white pictures, most of which appeared in newspapers, tell the story with brief, factual captions.  So many of those pictures...

In sixth grade, the classes after lunch were always "lighter," and we had lots of breaks.  We had one of those that day, and I remember that we had the partition rolled open between our room (Mr. Wenner's class) and the one next door (Mr. Campbell's class).  Right at that point, a teacher from down the hall (I don't remember her name) scurried into our classroom and whispered something into Mr. Wenner's ear.  One of the kids in the front row heard part of it, and immediately turned and relayed to us (not in a whisper) "The governor of Texas has been shot!"

She probably saw some pretty puzzled looks.  Why would a sixth grade teacher in Silver Spring, Maryland be so upset about the governor of Texas?  One of the boys in front of me shot back, "Is he dead?"  No answer - because Mr. Wenner was turning away from the other teacher, nodding, and holding his hands up for us to listen.

Inside the front cover there are two yellowed pages that apparently came from a teletype machine (maybe from my Dad's office - he worked for the government) with the date in my cursive 11-year-old handwriting written at the top:  November 22, 1963, my Dad's 43rd birthday.  The type is all in black capital letters, with a symbol at the top '-V-' and a first sentence that drifts vertically down the page, as if someone had started to pull it from the teletype machine as it was printing: 



...and it continues like this for a page.  Then at the top of the second page, there is a headline:


...followed by a one line story, and then back to a Dallas (AP) dateline.

There are several photo pages of documentation about Lee Harvey Oswald in the middle.   The last one is the one of Oswald in custody and a man in a fedora (in the right foreground) pointing a pistol at his midsection.   There are pictures of the funeral, and there is a picture on the inside back cover of a very young sweet-looking John-John with his right hand at his temple in a salute.

My only other memory of that day is the walk home from school (early?) and the strange feeling that something was happening that was somehow different from anything else, even though the street was the same, the trees were the same, and everything was the same on the outside.  Something felt very different on the inside.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hoarder Historian

...a series of posts in which a baby boomer, in the process of cleaning out the file cabinets, boxes, and bookshelves in his basement, discovers memories hidden in long-forgotten artifacts, and waxes, if not eloquent...

Nick Manoloff's Spanish Guitar Method, Book No. 1...$1.00...copyright 1935, M. M. Cole Publishing Company, Chicago

I think I was probably about 8 years, maybe 6.  My Aunt Selma gave me the old Kalamazoo guitar (which I was to learn later - much, much later - was an early Gibson), and my mother arranged for me to take guitar lessons.  My teacher was Mr. Vesey, a man with little patience, and less sense of humor.  I didn't remember his name - but my cousin Lissa did, and she always laughed when she said it.  She took lessons from Mr. Vesey about 6 weeks later, after I quit.  She stuck with it, until, as a young teenager she taught me some of what she had learned at camp (Talking Blues, and the E, A and D chords, so that I could play Gloria).  I was 15, and I got serious about folk guitar.  Lissa died in February 2010, just 56 years old.

Nick Manoloff's book, according to page 1, is "recommended by THESE GREAT ARTISTS," whose headshots (14 of them) are lined up vertically to the left and the right of the cursively labeled picture of Nick Manoloff himself, wearing a tuxedo and playing his classical guitar in the center of the page.  I just scanned those pictures and names surrounding Nick, and I don't even vaguely recognize a single one.  How could I?  This was published 17 years before I was born.  I'll bet Mr. Vesey knew them.

As I flip through the book, my eye lands on page 31, labeled at the top "The Natural Scale in the First Position."  There's a pencil note just under the title - "Play up & back," and a humorless bracketing of groups of three to nine notes, each bracket labeled with a penciled date, beginning with the first string - April 15 - and proceeding through the sixth string - May 12.

Lissa died of brain cancer.  It was diagnosed almost 10 years earlier as some chronic disease, and the symptoms were treated.  By the time her husband insisted on taking her to a specialist, 8 years later, the tumors had infiltrated her entire brain.  She was a Nurse Practitioner, an artist, and a wonderful mother of two kids (now both successful adults - and both medical professionals).  She had an incredible, sudden, cackling laugh, as abrupt to stop as it was to start.  I learned more guitar from her in one afternoon when I was 15 than I did from Mr. Vesey in a month and a half.  Although she spent most of her life in New Jersey, and I have lived mostly in Virginia and Minnesota, we talked.  Every time we talked, it was as if we were both still living in the brownstone on East 91st Street in Brooklyn...or unscrewing the light bulbs while waiting for her parents to come home.